In 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a ban on abortion and asserted a fundamental, constitutional right to abortion in Iowa.
In response, Iowa Republicans have since focused on changing the constitution to remove that right. This will make space for future restrictions on reproductive health care to withstand court challenges.
The amendment proposed this session by Republican lawmakers states that the Iowa Constitution does not, in fact, “recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion…”
Monday, senators on the State Government subcommittee heard public comments about the amendment, with a balance of people speaking for and against the bill.
Most arguments followed the typical lines of women’s autonomy and practical concerns vs protecting unborn life that “is a baby.” Several women shared their abortion stories or talked about why access needs to be protected.
The more interesting, and slightly newer, discussion was about the purpose of Iowa’s constitution, and how this amendment would affect that.
“Our entire conception of the constitution is that it is there to prevent government from making decisions about other people,” said Pete McRoberts of the Iowa ACLU. “It doesn’t grant rights, it puts a fence around what government can and cannot do.”
He said the Iowa Constitution, and specifically its bill of rights, serves that role.
Kim Laube, who works for Lutheran Family Service, said this amendment is meant to clarify the Iowa Constitution doesn’t support the right to abortion, not to outright ban the procedure in the state.
She said it’s necessary because “a handful of unelected members of Iowa’s Supreme Court overstepped their constitutionally outlined mandate and chose, in essence, to create law rather than to interpret it.”
Unelected judges overstepping is a common complaint about the 2018 decision that struck down the 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions.
Sen. Tony Bisignano addressed that, and said attacking another branch of government should never be an option people pursue.
“We’ve heard about activist judges, which has brought this here which is from 2018, honestly, you know an activist judge is a judge who rules opposite of what you wished,” he said. “You know, we win some, we lose some in the court system.”
Of the seven judges who ruled in that case, four were appointed by former Gov. Terry Branstad, Republican and abortion opponent, and three were appointed by former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat. The 2018 decision passed 5-2.
McRoberts said Iowa’s constitution sometimes requires people in government to accept policies they disagree with. That idea is the reason for those government restrictions, he explained.
“In plain English, without trying to sound like a Philadelphia lawyer, we believe that a decision so personal as to whether or not to raise a child, adopt a child, to start a family that is a decision that would have been anticipated by the framers of the constitution and that the court was right,” he said.